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With the Ride to End Alzheimer's, a Bloomington man honors his late wife

David and Cheryl Myers
David and Cheryl Myers

Cheryl Myers was 45 years old when she first began having issues with her memory. For two years she and her husband David saw doctor after doctor and were met with a string of misdiagnoses. Finally in 2012, Cheryl was referred to a neurologist. At the age of 47, she was diagnosed with Alzheimer's. David Myers said having finally found the answer, he and Cheryl were stunned.

“Only 200,000 people are diagnosed under the age of 65 typically. And she was 20 years before that,” Myers said.

Myers said they had no idea what to expect and no real idea of where to turn for help. They floundered on their own for a year or two before finding out how to become involved with the Alzheimer's Association of America. Every year in over 600 communities nationwide, the Alzheimer's Association hosts the Walk to End Alzheimer's. It's a fundraiser for Alzheimer's care, support and research. David and Cheryl decided to get involved.

“One of the aspects of her disease was that she walked and walked and walked," Myers recalled of his wife. "She would walk all day long - just circles around the house,”

So together with a group of friends they formed Cheryl's Holy Walkamolies to raise funds and awareness for the disease that was taking more and more of Cheryl every day. Myers described Alzheimer's as a path backwards through cognitive development.

Cheryl eventually entered what Myers describes as a very childlike state. And while that meant that she needed constant care, Cheryl also had access to joy. She laughed and she sang, surprising her family with seemingly limitless knowledge of Pantera lyrics.

But other memories were leaving Cheryl. On the morning of their daughter's wedding, Myers told Cheryl it was time to get dressed. “For what?” she asked. Myers realized that Cheryl simply had no clue that such a momentous event was unfolding around her. He said that was hard on the family.

“It took away a lot of the life that my kids should have had with their mom,” Myers said.

The Myers family
The Myers family

But even with large swaths of her memory gone, Myers believes that Cheryl still understood she was loved. Even though she have no longer known who he was, Cheryl still recognized Myers as someone who loved her, and who would keep her safe. Myers says at the end of Cheryl's life, he was able to truly thank her for all she'd done for their family.

"Cheryl stayed home and raised our kids. So it gave me the ability to pay back what she did for us,” he said.

Cheryl died in 2019. She was only 53 years old. Because of the degenerative, drawn-out nature of the disease, Myers said they had ample time to plan and to say goodbye. He calls that both a blessing and a curse.

“Bittersweet is the thing that came out when she passed away because it's just no way for anybody to live,” Myers said. “It's difficult for the caregivers, for people that have to take care of someone that they love - to watch them fall apart and eventually pass away from a disease where there is no cure.”

Myers has now dedicated much of his life to helping other families on what he calls their Alzheimer's journey. He's a community educator providing resources and training, and serves on the community advisory board. He was also instrumental in the formation of a support group for men, who much like him, suddenly found themselves as caregivers for partners coping with Alzheimer's.

“Support groups are difficult for men, because we just don't like to share," Myers said. "(I thought) it would be awesome if we could get a support group just for men.”

That support group launched during COVID in a virtual format, allowing men from all over the state to overcome the isolation of caring for an effected partner. Myers is also still actively involved in fundraising for the Alzheimer's Association – although he's souped up the format just a little.

Instead of a walk, he started a ride to end Alzheimer's.

The ride in question is a motorcycle, something Myers said Cheryl adamantly opposed throughout their marriage. However, in the years before her death, Cheryl changed her mind and even joined Myers one day for a ride.

“After that she would never let me go out without her,” he said.

Cheryl enjoyed many rides towards the end of her life. In honor of those memories, Myers is raising money and awareness for Alzheimer's with the help of people he describes as some of the most soft-hearted, leather-clad bikers you could ever hope to meet – the Widow Sons and Masonic Writers Association who are active in charity work.

“They never met my wife, but they do it for her," Myers said. "And that's really cool."

The Ride to End Alzheimer's will be held this Saturday, July 23, atBloNo Pizza Co. in Normal. The ride begins at 9 a.m. and will feature a car show, pizza, drinks and plenty of motorcycles - all in memory of Cheryl Myers.

Sarah Nardi is a WGLT reporter. She previously worked for the Chicago Reader covering Arts & Culture.